Off goes former Father Paul Shanley to state prison in Massachusetts for 12 to 15 years, convicted of raping and otherwise sexually abusing Paul Busa 20 years ago. He's now 74, so the earliest he can hope to get out is when he is 86, at which point the district attorney could determine that he is still, though frail, "a sexually dangerous person" and can remain in confinement for whatever years remain. And, in fact, a district attorney in Massachusetts exercised just that option in the case of Father James Porter, who was released in 2004 after pleading guilty in 1993 to molesting 28 children. At the time of his death earlier this month at the age of 70, Porter remained in civil confinement, with the state seeking to keep him behind bars indefinitely.

So Shanley must know that most likely he will never see the light of day, unless it's through a barred window. He has more pressing concerns, namely the distinct likelihood that he will be murdered in prison, a hope expressed by more than one person present at his sentencing, where Christian compassion, always rationed in Massachusetts, was in short supply. "I want him to die in prison, whether it's of natural causes or otherwise. However he dies, I hope it's slow and painful," wrote Shanley's accuser, Paul Busa, a 27-year-old firefighter, in a statement he made to the court.

The menacing words "Ö or otherwise" were no doubt intended to evoke the fate of John Geoghan, a Catholic priest sent to a Massachusetts prison for 10 years in August 2002, for fondling the buttock of a 10-year-old. Although Geoghan was being officially kept in "protective custody," he was strangled to death in August of 2003 by Joseph Druce, who was serving a life term for killing a gay man. There have been allegations that prison guards were complicit in Geoghan's murder. Paul Busa's father, Richard, is a corrections officer with many relatives in law enforcement in Massachusetts.

In that same written statement, Busa stated that Shanley "is a founding member of NAMBLA and openly advocated sex between men and little boys." It's this supposed distinction that has earned Shanley his throne in the Ninth Circle of the damned as the man who created the North American Man Boy Love Association. It was one of the credentials in his resume as presented in a two-and-a-half hour Power Point presentation to the press in April 2002, by Roderick MacLeish, the personal injury lawyer representing Paul Busa. In that presentation, MacLeish released Shanley's ample diocesan file to the press, who hurried to the phones to relay McLeish's allegations without pausing to scrutinize the file.

Had they done so, they would have found no buttress to McLeish's charge that Shanley founded NAMBLA, or was ever a member of that group, or had ever advocated sex between men and little boys, or ever had had a history of being moved from parish to parish, or had a 30-year record of child abuse cases filed against him. Yet all of these allegations have become the common currency of Shanley's biography, and if guards usher a murderer into his cell, the killer will probably have the NAMBLA charge at the top of his mind. Shanley's defense counsel, Frank Mondano, has said that during jury selection, every potential juror was aware of the Shanley scandal and specifically that Shanley was somehow involved with NAMBLA.

When my colleague JoAnn Wypijewski began to report on the Shanley case in 2002, the first thing she did was go to the 1,600-page diocesan file that McLeish had brandished at the press conference, with selected citations in his Power Point display. It became clear to JoAnn that in a case that had consumed the press, most conspicuously, the Boston Globe, which ran daily stories on the priest scandal for years on end, she was the only reporter to have taken the trouble to look at the actual church dossier.

What she found in the documents were many, many pages of Shanley's fervent defense of homosexuality as a normal human variation and the uproar these arguments provoked within the church. (Shanley, like many of his generation, had found powerful buttress for his claims in Kinsey's Indiana sex surveys of the 1950s.) The Church's file from 1993 on contains documents related to old charges of various imputed abuses by the priest. But nowhere in the dossier was there any backing for the claim that Shanley was a founder of NAMBLA, and JoAnn, despite many discoveries about Shanley's active sex life as a priest, never found any external evidence to back the charge. For her fascinating report on Shanley, see

What landed Shanley in the courtroom and now in prison was not anything in the Church's file but the uncorroborated "recovered memories" of one man, Paul Busa. This case is a throwback to the high 1990s, when people were put behind bars for lifetimes on the basis of memories elicited by the leading questions of psychotherapists. Ultimately, after years of patient effort by a few journalists, psychoanalysts, psychological researchers and advocates for justice, "recovered memory" as a tool of the latter-day Inquisition fell into well-deserved disrepute. In the state that gave us Salem in the 17th century and the Amiraults in the 20th (all wrongly sent to prison on charges brought by Middlesex county District Attorney Martha Coakley), Shanley's conviction has reintroduced "recovered memory" to the courtrooms of the 21st century.

In Shanley's trial, witnesses for the prosecution would not confirm Busa's claim that he was regularly taken from religious instruction classes by Shanley. Nor would they confirm that they had ever seen the priest alone with Busa, or had seen anything untoward in the five years, 1983-89, during which Busa claims abuse by Shanley. These claims were based on memories that became active in 2002, following Busa's conversation with his girlfriend about the nearly identical recovered memories of his friend Gregory Ford. Ford was dropped by the prosecution in the same case, as were two others, their stories apparently deemed by the D.A. too vexed for courtroom use.

No facts relative to the charges intruded into the courtroom of Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Stephen Neel, only emotion. On the face of it, Judge Neel should have dismissed the charges, as requested by the defense. In the atmosphere of Massachusetts it would have taken courage for him to have done that, and truly extraordinary courage for anyone on the jury (which included a therapist) to have stood out.

Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at COPYRIGHT 2005 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.